Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he would promote legislation that would disqualify lawmakers who follow in the footsteps of three MKs who last week met with families of terrorists and reportedly expressed solidarity with them.
Netanyahu didn’t offer any details for the legislation he would seek to advance but mentioned the three MKs specifically, accusing them of “building walls of hatred” to resist Israeli efforts to integrate the Arab community.
“Many Israeli citizens do not feel that these MKs represent them. We are making great efforts, a great investment to involve Arab citizens in Israeli society and [these MKs] do the exact opposite, they build walls of hatred,” he said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
On Thursday it emerged that Joint List MKs Hanin Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Basel Ghattas met Tuesday with relatives of Palestinians killed while attacking Israelis, ostensibly in a bid to help them retrieve the bodies for burial. All three MKs hail from the Balad party, which was folded into the 11-strong Joint List in the current Knesset.
The three have defended the meeting, which drew wide Israeli condemnation, saying it did not constitute support for terror, though the lawmakers also reportedly observed a moment of silence for the attackers and at least one has call the dead terrorists “martyrs.”
Following the meeting, the Balad party accused Netanyahu of trying to make political hay out of the incident.
“After [Netanyahu] understood that there was no criminal wrongdoing in the contacts the MKs had, he is trying to capitalize politically to advance legislation that will harm the political representation of the Arab minority,” the party said in a statement.
While lawmakers enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution, Netanyahu on Saturday night asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to explore if they can nevertheless face charges for supporting terror.
At the same time, Netanyahu said he wants to push forward laws to keep them out of the Knesset.
“I will ask to examine new legislative changes that will allow us to have those who act this way not serve in the Israeli Knesset. I think this thing is important as a statement of what kind of society we want to live in,” Netanyahu said, without specifying what “this way” referred to.
The prime minister added that he and Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein jointly filed a complaint against the three MKs with the Knesset’s Ethics Committee.
The prime minister said he expected “all members of the opposition who have justifiably been outraged by this matter to support the various proposals we will bring to the table.”
“I try to imagine what would have happened in the British Parliament or American Congress if MPs or congresspeople would observe a moment of silence for murderers of British citizens or American citizens. I think it would raise great outrage and justifiably so,” he said.
On Thursday, when news of the meeting became public, the MKs were condemned by almost all parties in the Knesset, including the opposition’s Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu, and members of Meretz.
The Balad MKs defended the meeting, saying they held it in order to help the families retrieve the terrorists’s bodies, which are being held by Israel.
Zahalka claimed the visit was not a show of support for the families and said that he and the other MKs condemned the violence committed by the dead assailants. “We went to hear from the families about the issues of transferring the bodies. That’s it. There was nothing else in this visit.”
Asked why the MKs had observed a minute of silence at the meeting on Tuesday in memory of the dead killers, Zahalka said many meetings among Palestinians begin with a minute of silence “in memory of all Palestinian dead” and that the lawmakers were not honoring the terrorists themselves. He denied a report that the MKs had called the dead terrorists “martyrs.”
When pressed on how he would categorize Palestinians who had attacked and killed innocent Israeli civilians, Zahalka said that “they are victims of the occupation.”
In a Channel 10 interview, his colleague Ghattas said of the dead terrorists: “As a people, we consider them to be martyrs. You (Jewish Israelis) don’t deal with the root of the problem, which is the occupation.”
In a statement Thursday, Netanyahu said the MKs were “not worthy to serve” in the Knesset.
“Members of Knesset who go to comfort the families of terrorists who murdered Israelis do not deserve to be in the Israeli Knesset,” he said.
If it goes forward, Netanyahu’s legislation may unintentionally snare political allies as well
According to US magazine Forward, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked recently met the mother of an American-Israeli suspect in the fatal Duma firebombing after he complained that he had been tortured by the Shin Bet security service in mid-September, before any indictments were saved in the case.
The suspect cannot be named in Israel due to a gag order imposed on parts of the investigation.
The attack, in which three members of a Palestinian family were killed by suspected Jewish terrorists, is being handled as a terror attack. Two Israelis have been indicted for the attack — one for murder and the other, a minor, as an accomplice.